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Long lines and lots of instruments

Sugar - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 11:38
If you want to image the Earth’s crust and upper mantle with seismic data, you need to record the arrival of seismic waves that have propagated down to, in our case, depths of up to ~30 km.  These deep-diving phases travel quickly through the denser, higher velocity rocks of the lower crust and upper mantle, and they arrive back at the surface ahead of shallower phases at long source-receiver offsets (see video below).  

To record these lower-crustal and upper-mantle phases as “first arrivals”, where they are not obscured by the arrival of energy from shallow paths, we use long lines.  Long lines mean lots of receivers and lots of driving to deploy and recover these instruments.  We could have used lots of sources instead, but the blasts we used to get seismic energy into the lower crust and upper mantle in this experiment take a lot of time and money to setup.  Receivers are much cheaper, so we used a lot of them.  (For similar wide-angle/long-offset work at sea, airgun sources are cheaper than putting seismometers on the seafloor, so we use many shots and a smaller number of receivers out there.)

This time-lapse video shows Team 13 of 14 recovering 89 of the 1200 total short-period seismograph stations from where our line crossed Fort Benning, near the northwestern end of the line.

Nathan Miller, LDEO

Deploy in the rain, recover in the sunshine…

Sugar - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 00:32

Weather map during deployment.
When the time came to install our 1200 small seismographs across Georgia at the flagged positions, the rains came….   A lot of rain.  During our first deployment day, we received 1-2 inches of rain, and another wave of rain clouds came through on Day 2 (check out map). Roads that used to be easily passable became mudholes or were flooded with water. All-wheel-drive vehicles and drill rigs alike got stuck, and a few station locations could only be reached on foot. Our hard-working field crew labored in the rain digging holes and deploying seismometers.  Vehicles, equipment and people were covered in the famous Georgia red clay (and other muds and sands of Georgia and northernmost Florida). Adding insult to injury, problems with the programming of some of the instruments meant that we actually had to pick up and redeploy many of them. It was a mudbath.  Nonetheless, our field crew managed to deploy 1200 seismometers across Georgia by Tuesday at sundown. It was an impressive show of endurance, and an inspiring display of positivity given the number of people that were still smiling and upbeat at the end of it all. 
A couple of days later, after our seismic shots, it was already time to pick up the instruments, and the weather changed completely.  The sun shined on SW Georgia, and we picked up almost every last seismometer in just one day under blue skies….  
Donna Shillington, LDEO

Random Pictures from the Road (and otherwise)

Sugar - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 13:43
As a follow follow up to Chastity's post, I thought a few random pictures from the road would be entertaining. I have been part of group 5 and as such responsible for the part of the line that spans from Hahira in the south to just north of Adel.

 South-central part of the seismic line. The yellow line is team 5's section.  We have been in a relatively rural part of Georgia and as a result have not encountered many locals save a few who have stopped to ask if we are ok. However, we have seen quite a few interesting things that are quite out of the ordinary (to me at least).

Friendly Muscovy duck.Rocks in a stream bed with associated pink spongy material (?)
Spanish moss.Linguoid (current) ripples on a washed out road. We have also seen quite a few old abandoned farm houses in various stages of aging...

At least 10-15 dogs were standing guard at this house, including about 8 puppies.

Caroline making some new friends.
All said we have dug 122 holes in team 5's stretch. We have also helped deploy instruments in other sections as well and while doing so have seen others hard at work.

Meghan and Nate getting it done!Along the way the cars have taken quite a beating and have actually held up pretty well. Although there have been a few instances where people got stuck, I think that the people with the toughest job will be the guys that have to detail the cars upon their return...

A more appropriate vehicle (?)And lastly here's a couple more random pictures that I thought were interesting.

The large disparity in fuel grade gas prices.
A ~perfectly leveled geophone (it's harder than you'd think).Hopefully this random selection of pictures was entertaining. Up next we will post about last night's "shots." In the meantime, I can say that they were all successful with varying degrees of excitement. The most important thing is that all of our hard work is being realized as the instruments are recording refractions from buried geology that will help us unravel some of the mystery that surrounds events that happened in this area long ago.

James Gibson, LDEO

Rain, geophones, and animals … Oh my!

Sugar - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 17:15

Chastity Aiken
Georgia Institute of Technology

Flags, Flags, and More Flags - Locating the sites for 1200 instruments

Sugar - Sat, 03/15/2014 - 23:14
Many of the SUGAR field team arrived in Americus, GA on Wednesday to start helping with the massive charge of deploying 1200 seismic instruments along the SUGAR seismic line.  The seismic line spans 200 miles from northwest Georgia to just past the Georgia-Florida border; a 4+ hour car drive from end to end!  Everyone gathered early Thursday morning on the idyllic Georgia Southwestern State campus to meet with the chief scientists and learn about the proper techniques for identifying installation sites for the seismographs (just the first step in installing the instruments).  With neon orange safety jackets, numerous maps, GPS devices, packets of official permitting documents, and heads full of safety precautions the field team split into seven two-person pairs each equipped with their own squeaky clean rental car (though they didn’t stay clean for very long!).  
The fleet of SUGAR rental cars looking clean and shiny before being driven
into the field where they undoubtedly got a little mud on their tires.
Each pair of field assistants was given a segment of the seismic line to drive and flag locations for instrument installation deemed safe both from the seismograph (i.e. dry, firm soil) and the install team (i.e. a safe distance from the road).  Given the shear distance of the seismic line, teams found themselves amid diverse backdrops from rolling farmland with overly friendly cows to buzzing residential neighborhoods to sandy stretches flanked by towering groves of Ponderosa Pine trees. 
Antonio placing a flag and using a GPS device to note the location where a
seismograph will be installed amid the sandy surroundings of a Ponderosa Pine farm.
Every team was able to flag all their sites within just two days leaving us the luxury of a sunny Saturday morning free for exploring more of our beautiful Georgia surroundings.  Next up is the actual task of installing the 1200 seismographs which will involve twice the people, six more (temporarily clean) vehicles, and of course countless exciting adventures from the field.  Happy (almost) St. Patrick’s Day from Americus!
A picturesque county road near Jasper, FL along which instruments will be deployed.
-- Natalie Accardo, LDEO

A day with the seismic source team in photos

Sugar - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 23:43
The source of sound waves for the SUGAR experiment will be a series of controlled blasts along the profile.  For each of these, we drill a 60-100 ft deep hole, place emulsion explosives with boosters and caps at the base of the hole, and fill in the rest of the hole with dirt and gravel.  Each seismic source location requires a substantial amount of work by drillers and the UTEP seismic source team.  Below, Adrian Gutierrez shows a day in the life of the source team with pictures (Donna Shillington, 13 March 2014)

Adrian Gutierrez, 13 March 14
7:30 am: Leave Georgia Southwestern State University, where we are staying, and head to the site8:20 am: Arrive at site 8:30 am: Start drilling and take geological samples every 5 ft.

9:00 am: Dyno Nobel truck arrives; load emulsion into cut PVC pipe sections that serve as a holders for emulsion.
9:30 am: Surprise visit from other scientists on the project9.50 am: Setting up the booster in the emulsion.11.20 am: Loading the explosives into the drill hole12.00 pm: Drill crew starts removing their equipment12.45 pm: Tagging the charges and plugging the hole3.15 pm: Move onto the next drill site.Nighttime: Finally back to the dorm.

Arrival of the seismic equipment!

Sugar - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 19:57
Boxes with seismographs and other equipment
During this project, we will deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long (300-km-long) profile across Georgia.  All of these seismographs were shipped to Georgia from Socorro, New Mexico. This is the headquarters of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere (PASSCAL), a facility that provides seismic instrumentation to US researchers.  It takes a lot of boxes to hold all 1200 seismographs and the associated equipment and tools.  There are 15 seismographs per box, so that's 80 boxes alone without counting boxes for geophones, etc. 

Fortunately, we have a lot of space! Our field headquarters is located in a historic gym on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, GA.  Faculty and staff at GSW have been extraordinarily generous with their time and expertise. They are allowing us to use the Florrie Chappel gym as our base of operations, and they have helped us enormously with Georgia geology and logistics coordination, handling our huge shipment of equipment and supplies, housing on the campus (many of us are staying in one of the dorms!), setting up the gym with internet access, power, and tables, and much, much more. Today, they moved all of the boxes with our seismic equipment from the shipping warehouse to our field headquarters in the gym. I can sense that all of our seismic instruments are itching to be deployed....
Pallets waiting outside the Florrie Chappell gym
Donna Shillington
11 March 2014

More preparations: mini seismic experiments

Sugar - Mon, 03/10/2014 - 11:31
A geophone in grass, awaiting sound waves.

To prepare for our big seismic experiment, we have collected a couple of miniature seismic datasets.  The shallow geology varies substantially along our profile and is very important for planning the depth of drilling and size of our seismic sources. In particular, we need to determine the depth to a limestone layer in a few places.   The same seismic method that we will use to understand the deep geological structures beneath Georgia can also be used at a smaller scale to examine layering in the upper ~100 ft (~30 m) beneath the surface. We recorded the data on 24 geophones attached to a 230-ft-long (70-m-long) cable.  The source was a modified shot gun that looks like a pogo stick.  We drilled small holes in the ground, loaded the gun and stuck it in the hole. To limit the kickback, we weighted the gun down with a metal plate topped by two heavy jugs filled with sand. Hit the plate with a mallet and – BANG – a seismic source! Not a bad way to spend a sunny Sunday!

Check out Dan firing the seismic source...

Donna Shillington
9 March 14

Laying the groundwork

Sugar - Wed, 03/05/2014 - 22:56

We have just arrived in sunny Americus, GA from the cold north to ramp up for the SUGAR project. The peaceful, pastoral landscapes of southern Georgia mask geological structures created by a series of dramatic events that were central to the formation of the North American continent.  During SUGAR, we will use sound waves to image these geological structures.   Less than 2 weeks from now, we’ll deploy 1200 small seismographs along a 200-mile-long line that extends from north of Columbus to south of Valdosta with the help of a cadre of students from across Georgia and beyond. These instruments will record sound waves generated by a series of controlled blasts in deep drill holes.

Spanish moss lined trees along our transect south of Valdosta
Collecting these data will involve a week of intense work by >30 people. However, just laying the groundwork for this effort has already required a long list of (sometimes novel) tasks.  When we conceived of this project, we drew a couple of straight lines on a map that would enable us to capture the geological features that we wish to study: the South Georgia Basin, the Suwanne Suture, and frozen magmas from the huge Central Atlantic Magmatic Province.  In reality, we must create this line by knitting together a patchwork of roads.  During a couple of planning trips, we bumped along on dirt roads, cruised county lanes, and zoomed down state highways mapping out the best route. 

Dan and Steve scouting our route. Our seismometers will line county and state roads across southwestern Georgia, and both seismometers and seismic sources will cross private properties. Identifying private landowners to request permission has transformed us into detectives. In most cases, the name and address of the owner are easily found on the tax assessor's website for each county.  But actually getting in touch with people is not so easy! We mailed letters. We put flyers directly into people’s mailboxes. We searched for phone numbers online and left messages (sometimes multiple messages…). We found websites and email addresses for companies, and sometimes wrote to people about our project through website forms (including those for a bank, a dentist's office and a website selling organic beef!).  Happily, once we made contact, individuals and companies have been very welcoming and graciously granted us permission – southern hospitality in action!  A litany of other preparations have already been completed or are currently underway. Drilling of the holes for seismic sources has just begun, and the seismometers will arrive very soon. We are definitely ready for the transition from preparing to doing....
Donna Shillington
5 March 2014

The Story at the Bottom of the South China Sea

Opening the South China Sea - Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:17

We have drilled 2,600 feet below the sea floor and in another 500 feet, will reach the crystalline igneous basalt of the ocean crust. Though finding the age of the basalt is our main aim, the thick sediments that overly the crust also have a story to tell. As the sediments build up over time, they record the geological and climate history of the region.

There are the muds, silts, and sands, shaken loose from shallower depths and transported by gravity down-slope to the deep basin, where our first drill site is located. Ultimately, these sediments come from erosion of the surrounding land, and in this tectonically active part of the world, there is a lot of erosion going on. The island of Taiwan, for example, is being tectonically uplifted at a rate of about 0.2 inches per year, and is being eroded at about the same rate. This may not sound like much uplift, but imagine a world without erosion, Taiwan would stand 12 miles high after 4 million years. All that eroded rock ends up on the seabed, and some of it may find its way to our site.

There are the tiny shells of foraminifera and coccolithophores (familiar to us as chalk, in their pure rock form). They form a continual rain from the sea surface, and build up slowly but steadily on the seabed. The overturn of marker species shows us the age of the sediments, and their chemistry carries a record of ocean temperatures in the past.

Finally, there are volcanic sediments – from thin ash layers from distant volcanoes, to thick beds containing coarse chunks of rock exploded from nearby volcanoes. The close volcanoes are no longer active, and some have sunk beneath the sea to become seamounts. We will know from the depth of these beds in the sediment succession when the volcanoes erupted and for how long they were active.

This diversity means there is always something new and interesting to see in each 33-foot-long core that comes up from the sea bed, each another chapter in the geological history of the South China Sea. Among the 32 scientists on board, we have specialists in sedimentology, micropaleontology, volcanology and other fields. We are an international group; about half of us hail from China, a quarter from the U.S, and the rest from Australia, Brazil, France, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines (so there’s a good mix of music in the core laboratory – very nice). And that’s just the science party – the ship’s crew is almost as diverse.

Drilling Deep into the South China Sea’s Past

Opening the South China Sea - Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:56

SCS mapFive days after leaving Hong Kong, the JOIDES Resolution is on site and drilling into the muds and silts of the South China Sea. The expedition’s main objectives are tectonic in nature, and I’m not really a tectonicist (I’m on board for the borehole logging), so for me this cruise is a crash course in the geological history of this area.

The origin of the ocean crust under the South China Sea is enigmatic, and there is ongoing scientific debate about which tectonic forces pulled apart the crust here to form the basin. In one hypothesis, the collision of India into Asia that built the Himalayas and pushed out Indochina to the southeast had the collateral effect of causing extension to form the South China Sea. The leading rival hypothesis says that the extension resulted from slab-pull from subduction at the southern edge of the basin (Borneo and Padawan). Of course, there are theories that mix the two, as well as minor-party candidates (plumes!).

The expedition aims to test the competing hypotheses by dating the earliest ocean crust (at the northern edge of the basin) and the youngest ocean crust (close to the now-inactive spreading center). If the age interval of sea floor spreading matches the age of the extrusion of Indochina (lets say 35 to 16 million years ago), then the Indochina extrusion hypothesis gains support; but if we find different ages, other hypotheses will move up the leader board. The debate and this expedition add to our understanding of the basic forces that shape the Earth’s surface.

Until now, the dating and interpretations rely on magnetic sea floor anomalies and other geophysical surveys. We will date the rocks directly for the first time, by argon-argon dating of the basalt that forms the ocean crust, and by the age of the sediments sitting on the basalt. The tricky part is that the basalt lies under 950 meters of sediments at the first site, and under 1850 meters at the second. To drill to this depth and bring back 100 meters of basalt is challenging to say the least, but there is a highly experienced drilling crew on board, so we are in with a shot. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Explore the Arctic Ocean With ‘IceTracker’

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Tue, 12/10/2013 - 19:46

pfirman icetrackerBy Stephanie Pfirman

This week, we are launching a test of “IceTracker”—a tool that allows users to see the trajectories of Arctic sea ice forward or backward from any day between 1981 and 2012, as well as other data including sea-ice speed, air temperature, water depth and the age of the sea ice along the track. We think IceTracker will be useful not only for Arctic research and policy, but for bringing the Arctic sea ice alive for students and the general public.

Researchers interested in climate and arctic dynamics will be able to assess the origin and melt location of sea ice, and seasonal and year-to-year variations in drift trajectories from specific locations. They will also be able to look into the transport of sediment or contaminants on or in the ice; this might for instance shed light on potential trajectories of oil spilled in ice-covered waters, or habitat changes that might affect the foraging patterns of polar bears or other creatures.

The IceTracker might eventually be used to consider future management options in the Arctic. Among these: projecting where declining sea ice is likely to persist, providing future potential refuge for threatened arctic creatures (an idea that got a lot of attention at AGU in 2010). It can even be used to recreate historical events; we used it to figure out where Fridtjof Nansen and his crew would have drifted had they frozen their ship into the ice today, rather than during their famous 1893-1896 trans-Arctic drift.

IceTracker is an excellent inquiry-driven research environment for any student with access to a computer. Teachers can use the IceTracker in guided exercises, or let students work on their own to learn about ice dynamics, interannual variability and climate change. For instance, we have set up team competitions where students can vie to be the first to reach the North Pole by drifting with the ice, or to make it out alive through Fram Strait. By exploring the Arctic in this way, the IceTracker lets students do their own sampling of a real-world non-linear system. They can see how diminished ice cover has changed ice speed, and demonstrate for themselves how initial conditions can affect ice movements much farther down the line.

Others might use IceTracker to consider historical conditions in planning adventure expeditions, or to visualize changing conditions for Arctic wildlife.

We will present IceTracker at AGU on Friday, Dec. 13, at the Moscone South poster hall (look for abstract number C15A-0490). You can also try running trajectories yourself at our beta testing web site: We would appreciate ideas on how to make it better. Send feedback to:

The project has received funding from the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Some further resources:

Fowler, C. and M. Tschudi. 2003. Polar Pathfinder Daily 25 km EASE-Grid Sea Ice Motion

Vectors. Boulder, Colorado USA: NASA DAAC at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Pfirman, S., G.G.Campbell,B. Tremblay, R. Newton, W. Meier. New IceTracker Tool Depicts Forward and Backward Arctic Sea Ice Trajectories AGU San Francisco, December 2013. C51A-0490.

Pfirman, S., C. Fowler, B. Tremblay, R. Newton, 2009a. The Last Arctic Sea Ice Refuge. The Circle, 4:6-8.

Pfirman, S., B. Tremblay, C. Fowler, 2009b. Going with the Floe: An analysis of the epic expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Sir Ernest Shackleton. American Scientist, 97: 484-493.

Stephanie Pfirman is Hirschorn professor of environmental science at Barnard College, and an adjunct senior scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Explore the Arctic Ocean With ‘IceTracker’

pfirman icetrackerThis week, we are launching a test of “IceTracker”—a tool that allows users to see the trajectories of Arctic sea ice forward or backward from any day between 1981 and 2012, as well as sea-ice speed, air temperature, water depth and the age of the sea ice.

AGU 2013: Social Science Perspectives on Natural Hazards

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Mon, 12/09/2013 - 14:16

Courtesy Erik


Are you attending the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting this week in San Francisco? Are you interested in hearing from social scientists about Natural Hazards? The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) will be there to answer your questions. Below is a schedule of sessions that CRED researchers are speaking at or convening.

We hope to see you there. If you can’t be at AGU in person we encourage you to livestream the sessions here. 


Katherine Thompson, CRED PhD candidate, “The Problem with Probability: Why rare hazards feel even rarer”

Thompson_bioTuesday December 10, 1:55-2:10 PM PST, 2000 (Moscone West)
Session: Why Should We Talk About What We Don’t Know? Implications of Communicating Scientific Uncertainty II
How is probability of natural hazards events actually used by decision makers? The presentation will make recommendations on presenting probabilistic information to best take advantage of people’s tendencies to either amplify risk or ignore it, as well as recent findings that may shed light on ways that the negative effects of uncertainty can be mitigated.



David H. Krantz, CRED co-director, “Coordination of Individual and Organizational Planning for Natural Hazards”
krantz_bioThursday December 12, 1:40-1:55 PM PST, 3002 (Moscone West)
Session: Climate Change Effects on Natural Hazards: Science, Communication and Policy I
Dave Krantz will explore the four different kinds of decision aids needed to improve natural hazard planning: mechanisms that support horizontal dissemination of plans, mechanisms that support vertical dissemination, mechanisms for examining goal conflicts and reducing these through plans that take others’ goals into account, and mechanisms for examining belief conflicts.


Poster session, “Climate Change Effects on Natural Hazards: Science, Communication and Policy II Posters 
8:00 AM – 12:20 PM PST; Hall A-C (Moscone South)
Convener(s): Kelly Klima (Carnegie Mellon University) and Courtney St John (CRED, Columbia Earth Institute)

AGU 2013: Social Science Perspectives on Natural Hazards

// about improving communication of and planning for natural hazards from a social science perspective at AGU2013.

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth: Ocean Explorer

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Mon, 12/09/2013 - 11:41
R/V Marcus G. Langseth

Lamont-Doherty’s research vessel, the Marcus G. Langseth, in San Francisco bay.

The Marcus G. Langseth, a research vessel operated by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, traverses the world’s oceans conducting marine seismic studies that contribute to new understanding of Earth systems. The ship typically spends half the year or more on research expeditions led by Lamont-Doherty scientists and colleagues from other research institutes.

Mentions of cruises may conjure up images of mammoth floating hotels and lounge chairs, but the cruises undertaken by earth scientists involve neither of those. Researchers who examine the seismic activity taking place beneath the sea can spend many weeks each year aboard ships deploying instruments and collecting data; these cruises often involve long days working in all manner of sea conditions.

At the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting, now taking place in San Francisco, scientists and students who use the Langseth for research expeditions, the ship’s operators and administers from Lamont-Doherty and the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), and National Science Foundation program managers, met on Dec. 8 for the Marcus Langseth Science Oversight Committee annual community meeting.

At AGU, the oversight committee’s goal was to review results of the ship’s recent expeditions and discuss future research cruises. This year, for the first time, the meeting included a young career scientists workshop, where graduate students and early career investigators who have worked aboard the Langseth gave short talks about their research. Lamont-Doherty presenters included graduate students Natalie Accardo, James Gibson and Shuoshuo Han; postdoctoral researcher Nathan Miller; associate research scientist Angela Slagle; and alum Danielle Sumy (Ph.D. ’11).

Paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar with sediment cores collected during his May 2012 Line Islands research cruise.

Paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar with sediment cores collected during his May 2012 Line Islands research cruise.

Their talks were followed by presentations by scientists on the Langseth’s recent and upcoming cruise activities. Highlights included a talk by paleoclimatologist Pratigya Polissar, who discussed his May 2012 cruise near the Line Islands in the central equatorial Pacific. Scientists on this cruise collected nearly 500 feet of sediment cores, which are being analyzed and used to gain new insight into the alternating El Niño and La Niña weather patterns that affect much of the globe. The oldest core recovered on Polissar’s expedition dates back more than 400,000 years, covering the last three glacial cycles.

Marine geophysicist Fernando Martinez (Ph.D. ’88) from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa reported on a cruise that he led to the Reykjanes Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean in August 2013. The goal of the month-long cruise was to collect multibeam, magnetics and gravity data that will inform understanding of the evolution of the Reykjanes Ridge, a segment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just south of Iceland. This data will be used to test competing theories about what’s happening in this geologically fascinating area, with important implications for our understanding of geodynamic processes in the Earth.

Marine geophysicist Donna Shillington described a new research initiative that will use the Langseth to acquire large geophysical datasets in Atlantic waters as part of the Geodynamic Processes at Rifting and Subducting Margins (GeoPRISMS) project. The ultimate goal of GeoPRIMS is to investigate the coupled geodynamics, earth surface processes and climate interactions that build and modify continental margins over a wide range of timescales. The data Shillington and her group obtain during an upcoming cruise aboard the Langseth will be made available to the scientific community for various studies of the deep structure of the Eastern North Atlantic Margin. The project is also unique in that it features a large education and outreach component, which will train students and early career scientists to acquire and analyze seismic data.

The Langseth is scheduled to undergo maintenance in early 2014 before spending the remainder of the year on expeditions in the North Atlantic, including the GeoPRISMS cruise.

Visit the Marine Operations section of the Lamont-Doherty website to learn more about the R/V Langseth and the Observatory’s long history of seagoing exploration and discovery.

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth: Ocean Explorer

R/V Marcus G. LangsethThe Marcus G. Langseth, a research vessel operated by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, traverses the world’s oceans conducting marine seismic studies that contribute to new understanding of Earth systems. The ship typically spends half the year or more on research expeditions led by Lamont-Doherty scientists and colleagues from other research institutes. Mentions of cruises may conjure up [...]

AGU 2013: Key Events From the Earth Institute

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Fri, 12/06/2013 - 12:11

(Updated Dec. 10, 2013. James Hansen’s Frontiers of Geophysics talk has been RESCHEDULED to Wednesday, Dec. 11)

Scientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important research results and special events at the Dec. 9-13 San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Here is a guide in rough chronological order. Unless otherwise stated, presenters are at our Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Abstracts of talks and posters are on the AGU meeting program.  Reporters may contact scientists directly, or press officers: Kevin Krajick, 917-361-7766 or Kim Martineau, 646-717-0134

# # # # #

The $5,000 ‘Dark Data’ Contest Award

Kerstin Lehnert, lehnert@ldeo.columbia.eduLeslie Hsu

As part of an initiative to save data in danger of dying within old floppy disks, tape drives or paper archives, judges will award a trophy and $5,000 to the team that has done the best job of finding and preserving such “dark data.” The International Data Rescue Competition is sponsored by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Integrated Earth Data Applications project (which works to preserve dark data), and scientific publisher Elsevier. Sixteen teams from across the world have submitted entries. One group of seismologists has digitized Soviet magnetic recordings of Cold War nuclear tests in hopes of improving modern test-verification procedures. Another is a volunteer group that is digitizing handwritten weather observations from ship logs dating back hundreds of years.

Dark Data Talk: Monday, Dec. 9, 10:50-11:05 a.m., 2020 Moscone West. IN12A-03.

Award Ceremony: Monday, Dec. 9, 7-8:30 p.m., Twin Peaks Room, Intercontinental Hotel, 888 Howard St.

Read more about the contest

International Data Rescue Competition website and submissions

Integrated Earth Data Applications website 



The Dead Sea.

Drying of the Mediterranean and Mideast

Richard Seager

Nations surrounding the Mediterranean have been getting drier in the last decades, bringing record droughts to some places. Seager, a climate modeler, links drying in North Africa and Europe mainly to natural variability—but says there is evidence that drying of the Mideast is linked to overall climate warming. Further, based on changes in atmospheric circulation over the Mediterranean, he projects that the entire region from Spain through the Mideast may suffer increasing aridity in coming decades. This could happen not only during the usually dry summer, but during the crucial wintertime, when most rains now come in many places.

Monday, Dec. 9, 11:50 a.m.-12:05 p.m., 3003 Moscone West. GC12A-06 (Invited)


Climate Change: Spark of the Syrian Civil War?

Colin Kelley

From 2005-2010, Syria suffered its worst drought on record. Kelley and four colleagues say that natural weather variability played a role, but the root cause was probably a long-term shift in rainfall and heat caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. They say long-term atmospheric circulation changes increased the likelihood of drought in 2011 eight times over—and that increased warmth itself has directly caused drying of soils. While the causes of the war itself are complex, the drought brought food shortages, unemployment and disruption of rural social structures, driving some 1.5 million refugees from the countryside to the peripheries of cities, where discontent exploded into the ongoing bloodbath.

Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC13A-1047


Global Farm Yields, Future Climate, and Conflict

James Rising, Mark Cane

More researchers are exploring the potential for swings in weather and climate to drive armed conflicts, often through crop failures that lead to violence. Looking at data from 1961-2008, Rising and Cane find that during times of high crop yields, conflicts have been less likely to break out. They plan to use this baseline information, along with data on crop varieties that grow in varying conditions, future climate scenarios, and economic and political conditions, to project future conflicts in different parts of the globe.  

Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC13B-1069

(Related: Growing Susceptibility of the Global Food-Trade Network to Climate. Michael Puma, Monday, Dec. 9, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. GC11D-1038)


Scientists, Activism and the Impacts of Climate Change


James Hansen

James Hansen

James Hansen, the outspoken former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, now leads a new policy-oriented climate-change program at the Earth Institute. Known for his efforts to turn science into action, he and colleagues recently made headlines with a study contending that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has vastly underestimated how quickly CO2 emissions must be slowed. Hansen will give three high-profile talks. On Tuesday, he presents the Union Frontiers of Geophysics lecture. On Thursday, he will speak on “Minimizing Irreversible Impacts of Human-Made Climate Change.” On Friday, his talk challenges the research community on “Communicating the Need to Avoid Dangerous Climate Change.” Among other things, he will discuss his past, present and planned efforts to get information to the public and to the highest levels of government.

RESCHEDULED TO: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Hall E 134-135 Moscone North. U22C (Union Lecture)

Thursday, Dec. 12, 5:30-6 p.m., 104 Moscone South. GC44A-06 (Invited)

Friday, Dec. 13, 11:35 a.m.-12:05 p.m., 102 Moscone South. U52A-04

Earth Institute Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions


CLimate Models Calendar clipClimate Models! The Pinup Calendar

Co-creators: Rebecca Fowler

Francesco Fiondella (International Research Institute for Climate and Society)

Now you no longer have to dig through boring journal papers to learn all about your favorite climate scientists; just feast your eyes on the new 2014 Climate Models Calendar. Eye-popping portraits of 13 top Columbia University climate researchers in full regalia amid their natural habitat were conceived by bestselling photographer Jordan Matter (Dancers Among Us) and shot by fashion portraitist Charlie Naebeck. Calendar includes tasty inside info on the researcher of the month, such as favorite dataset or climate phenomenon. Individual dates are marked with famous climate/weather events, scientific meetings and other useful items. (There are 13 models because January 2015 comes as a bonus.) Models will be on hand to autograph calendars. (On sale through the Climate Models Calendar website, and at the Columbia M.A. in Climate and Society Program booth, no. 1329 in the Exhibit Hall.

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. ED23B-0725

Climate Models Calendar website


Did a 6th Century Comet Bring Global Famine?

Dallas Abbott,

Evidence from tree rings and ice cores suggest that parts of Europe, Asia and North America saw protracted cooling in the 530s, which has been linked to drought and famine. Some scientists hypothesize that Halley’s Comet may have caused this, by leaving a dust trail that the Earth later intercepted during its orbit. Dust in the air could have blocked the sun’s rays. Abbott finds evidence in ice cores drilled from Greenland: as much as 10 times more dust is found in the layer corresponding to 533 A.D. than at other intervals, she says. This dust is rich in markers of extraterrestrial origins such as nickel and iron oxide spherules. She finds that neither volcanism nor solar cycles can fully explain the cooling seen in various records during this decade. Furthermore, spikes of the ice-core dust appear to match the timing of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, known to be triggered by Halley. 

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. PP31B-1869


Burying CO2 in the Newark Basin:  Are There Earthquake Risks?

Natalia Zakharova

 In 2011, a consortium drilled a 1.5-mile deep hole off the New York State Thruway to study the rocks of the Newark Basin, which underlie parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Their goal: to understand the potential to store industrial carbon emissions, and the possible stresses on earthquake faults. Scientists are now analyzing data from this, and a second hole drilled this summer on the campus of nearby Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Zakharova presents early results from the Thruway borehole; these suggest that shallow reservoirs contain critically stressed faults and are not good for injection; injecting fluids 1.2 kilometers or below may be safer.

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. S33D-2472


dsc_0040 BangladeshBangladesh: Shaking and Sinking

Michael Steckler

For the past four years, a team from several universities has been studying the intertwined natural hazards of earthquakes, sea-level rise and sudden changes in river courses in Bangladesh, earth’s most densely populated nation. Now, detailed portraits of the forces driving these hazards are emerging. Principal investigator Michael Steckler gives an overview of how yearly loads of Himalayan sediment and water are interacting with rising sea level and a maze of underlying tectonic boundaries to create a system of dangers that could be set off by any number of triggers. Posters in a separate session paint a picture of hidden active faults around the capital of Dhaka, and how the delta on which Bangladesh sits is being twisted and squeezed by moving watery sediments and tectonic boundaries. 

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 1:40-1:55 p.m., 2005 Moscone West. EP33D-01 (Invited)

Related posters: Monday, Dec. 9, 1:40-6 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. T13D-2565 & T13D-2567

Short film on the project


Megadroughts: Signposts of the Past

Benjamin Cook

Edward Cook

Dendrochronologist Edward Cook has documented drought history in North America, monsoon Asia, and parts of Europe, North Africa and the Mideast. Tree rings going back many centuries before instrumental records reveal megadroughts covering vast regions and sometimes lasting more than 100 years—greater than anything seen in modern times. Such droughts were more common in the naturally warm period 600 to 1,000 years ago, he says. This suggests that greater warmth can push large climate systems into long-term aridity, raising the specter of megadroughts in the near future as climate warms. In a related talk, climate modeler Benjamin Cook (Edward’s son) delves into North America, starting with the devastating pan-continental drought of 2012. Similar to his father, he finds that droughts like this are rare, but not unprecedented, and occur most commonly during warmer times.  

Ben Cook: Monday, Dec. 9, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C, Moscone South. GC11A-0956

Ed Cook: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 4:45-5:05 p.m., 102 Moscone South. U34A-03


Turning CO2 to Stone

Juerg Matter

Some scientists say human-induced climate change could be mitigated by pumping industrial carbon dioxide underground; however, the fear of leaks is a major stumbling block. Matter’s group has been working on ways to turn pumped-down CO2 into a harmless limestone-like solid by harnessing natural chemical reactions underground. In the first field results from a pilot injection outside Reykjavik, Iceland, they have shown that the process can indeed work. The CarbFix project is dissolving CO2 in water and pumping it 500 to 800 meters down into a formation of basalt. Chemical monitoring shows that 85% of the CO2 reacts with the basalt within a year—a rate well beyond initial expectations. Scientists continue to monitor the storage reservoir.

Thursday, Dec. 12, 8 a.m.-12:20 p.m., Posters A-C Moscone South. V41A-2753

CarbFix website

AGU 2013: Key Events From the Earth Institute

dsc_0040 BangladeshScientists from Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important research results and special events at the Dec. 9-13 San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Here is a guide in rough chronological order.

IRI@AGU: Schedule of Events + Q&As

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting - Fri, 12/06/2013 - 11:11


Four scientists and one PhD student from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) are attending the 2013 American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting. Below are links to Q&As with each of the presenters and the schedule of their posters and presentations. For additional information about the scientists’ work, search the conference program for their names here.

The IRI is a research center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute dedicated to enhancing society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment, especially in developing countries.

Pietro Ceccato Q&A

Poster: Development and Implementation of Flood Risk Mapping, Water Bodies Monitoring and Climate Information for Human Health (EP53A-0754)
Session: Earth and Planetary Surface Processes General Contributions Posters
Friday, Dec. 13
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Paula Gonzalez Q&A

Poster: Long-lead ENSO Predictability from CMIP5 Decadal Hindcasts (GC43D-1090)
Session: How Reliable and Accurate are CMIP5 Climate Simulations?
Thursday, Dec. 12
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Arthur Greene Q&A

Presentation: Climate scenarios for driving AgMIP models (GC31D-06)
Session: Improving the Understanding of climate Variability and Change in Agriculture: AgMIP, Tropical Farm Adaptation and Related Research
Wednesday, Dec. 11
9:15 – 9:30 a.m.
3001 Moscone West

Catherine Pomposi Q&A

Poster: Sahel rainfall variability as simulated by the CAM4 model and its associated atmospheric dynamics (A11G-0136)
Session: West African Monsoon and Its Modeling
Monday, Dec. 9
8 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Presentation: Experiences in the New York Academy of Sciences STEM Mentoring Program (PA42A-08)
Session: Communicating the Relationship Between Policy Sciences, Natural Hazards, and Global Environmental Change
Thursday, Dec. 12
12:05 – 12:20 p.m.
2020 (Moscone West)

Andrew Robertson Q&A

Session (convener): Subseasonal to Seasonal Prediction: Bridging the Gap Between Weather and Climate
Monday, Dec. 9
8 – 10 a.m.
3010 (Moscone West)

Poster: Diagnostics of Interannual-to-Interdecadal Climate and Streamflow Variability: Applications to Reservoir Management over NW India (GC11A-0960)
Session: Paleoclimate, Observations, and Models: Water Resource Management Under Climate Variability and Change
Monday, Dec. 9
8 a.m. – 12:20 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)

Poster: Evaluation of Sub-monthly Forecast Skill from Global Ensemble Prediction Systems (A13E-0259)
Session: Subseasonal to Seasonal Prediction: Bridging the Gap Between Weather and Climate II Posters
Monday, Dec. 9
1:40 – 6 p.m.
Hall A-C (Moscone South)



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